Reinstall: Silent Hunter 2

Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, we dive beneath the waves and try to keep our voices down in Silent Hunter 2.

Slicing through the frigid North Atlantic waters, my wounded Type VII-C U-boat is one well-placed depth charge away from bursting open like a cheap German piñata and sinking rock-like to the ocean floor. Those British destroyers circling manically overhead show no signs of bugging off and leaving me to lick my wounds. Probably because I sunk two of the fattest ships in their convoy 15 minutes ago with a perfectly-aimed torpedo spread. But the sense of elation I felt is transforming into terror. After my fish made contact and turned the freighters into flaming steel coffins, the convoy's three destroyer escorts descended on me, peppering my crash-diving sub with hull-ripping depth charges.

That's the mercurial nature of Silent Hunter 2. Your emotions swing from euphoria to despair in seconds as you alternate from hunter-killer to passive prey. Sub sim fans have had a pretty good time with Ubisoft Romania's graphically sumptuous Silent Hunter 3, 4, and Vofferings but the franchise first got its Windows sea legs in 2001 with the Ultimation-designed SH2. The sim's well-researched U-boat dynamic created a sense of historical imperative that transcended convention. During key moments, it actually made you feel like you were sharing claustrophobic boat space with Kriegsmarine veterans like Otto Kretschmer and Erich Topp.

Some hoarding-afflicted simmers (like myself) still own original boxed retail copies of Silent Hunter 2. Today, the best way to revisit this naval pioneer is to grab the fully patched, $9.99 download at GOG . You won't have to seek out and install patches or scour message boards looking for tips to make it work with Vista or Windows 7. I had the game downloaded and running on my Win7 64-bit PC in less than 20 minutes.

The game certainly doesn't merit a reinstall on the strength of its graphics. The resolution maxes out at a lowly 800x600 and the textures don't hold a candle to the detailed scenes featured in SH5 (or SH3 for that matter), but that's not really a deal-breaker here. If you play SH2in full simulation mode—without the benefit of any external views apart from the bridge and periscope—there isn't much to look at in the game anyway, except your helm gauges, sonar display, torpedo fire control station and navigation plots. Along with the periscope view, these tolerably-attractive 2D screens communicate all the information you need to hunt and evade the enemy.

That's the way I like to play it anyway. SH2 can't compete with its progeny graphically or through superior gameplay mechanics. In fact, the older game eschews the sim community's favored dynamic campaign structure for a series of hard-scripted missions that you must individually beat in order to progress. Critics and fans slammed it for its inflexibility here (the AI can also be quite flaky at times), but this simplified linear format makes SH2the perfect candidate for time-constrained gamers who just want to spend 20 or 30 minutes sinking Allied tonnage.

Double-clicking the Silent Hunter 2 desktop icon launches the game in less than 10 seconds, and after selecting your historical or user-created mission, you'll be at the helm a few seconds. (A refreshing change from the languid 3D loading screens in Ubisoft's later Silent Hunter chapters.) What's more, you won't have to worry about any Starforce or DRM issues with this 2001 release, because it hails from an era when respect for your consumers trumped zealous IP rights enforcement.

Fast loading and an absence of copy protection hassles normally aren't compelling reasons to play a PC game. But in this case, you can put virtual submariners behind the periscope so quickly and efficiently that it's almost a new gaming experience. Take a break from your routine in the middle of the day and load up a manufactured or historical offensive against a lightly-defended convoy in the Med or an armed-to-the-teeth warship flotilla off the coast of Scotland. No lengthy navigation challenges, no interminably slow load screens: just you and your prey. Scrap it out for half an hour and return to your life. SH2 is so resource-frugal, in fact, that you can Alt-Tab between the game and other programs without Windows skipping a beat (a paused North Sea battle awaits me behind MS Word as I write this).

Silent Hunter 2 will never supplant SH5—or the heavily modded SH3—as the serious fan's preferred U-boat sim, but it still packs enough diverting (and non-invasive) gaming punch to earn it a spot on the hard drives of anyone seeking some quick and dirty submarine warfare without the full time commitment.

Silent Hunter 2 is available for $9.99 on GOG